Unless the eye catch fire
The God will not be seen
Unless the ear catch fire
The God will not be heard
Unless the tongue catch fire
The God will not be named
Unless the heart catch fire
The God will not be loved
Unless the mind catch fire
The God will not be known
One has either got to be a Jew or stop reading the Bible. The Bible cannot make sense to anyone who is not ‘spiritually a Semite.’ The spiritual sense of the Old Testament is not and cannot be a simple emptying out of its Israelite content. Quite the contrary! The New Testament is the fulfillment of that spiritual content, the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, the promise that Abraham believed in. It is never therefore a denial of Judaism, but its affirmation. Those who consider it a denial have not understood it.
Merton, CJB, 14.
Believe in order to be.
We believe, not because we want to know, but because we want to be.
Merton, CJB, 15.
Reunion begins in oneself.
If I can unite in myself the thought and the devotion of Eastern and Western Christendom, the Greek and Latin Fathers, the Russians with the Spanish mystics, I can prepare in myself the reunion of divided Christians. From that secret and unspoken unity in myself can eventually come a visible and manifest unity of all Christians. If we want to bring together what is divided, we can not do so by imposing one division upon the other or absorbing one division into the other. But if we do this, the union is not Christian. It is political and doomed to further conflict. We must contain all divided worlds in ourselves and transcend them in Christ.
Merton, CJB, 21
The Natural is Sacred or Profane. We choose which it will be.
Whatever is done naturally may be either sacred or profane, according to our own degree of awareness; but whatever is done unnaturally is essentially and irrevocably profane.
A.K. Coomaraswamy, in CJB, 25.
If I have not love, but all the knowledge in the world, then I am a clanging gong.
Gandhi once asked: “How can he who thinks he possesses absolute truth be fraternal?”
Commenting on Gandhi, Merton writes:
Only he who loves can be sure that he is still in contact with the truth, which is in fact too absolute to be grasped by his mind. Hence, he who holds to the gospel truth is afraid that he may lose the truth by a failure of love, not by a failure of knowledge…Knowledge expands a man like a balloon, and gives him a precarious wholeness in which he thinks that he holds in himself all the dimensions of a truth the totality of which is denied to others. It then becomes his duty, he thinks, by virtue of his superior knowledge, to punish those who do not share this truth. How can he ‘love’ others, he thinks, except by imposing on them the truth which they would otherwise insult and neglect?
Merton, CJB, 44.
Christians are a minority. Now get over it.
Christians stand to gain more in the long run by accepting their minority position and looking for quality rather than quantity.
Christopher Dawson, in CJB, 55.
Frivolous News is nothing New.
Every time [President] Kennedy sneezes or blows his nose an article is read about it in the refectory.
Merton, CJB, 58.
Oil: The Sacrament of American Folk Religion. The car: the chalice that contains it.
We waste our natural resources, as well as those of undeveloped countries’ iron, oil, etc. in order to fill our cities and roads with a congestion of traffic that is in fact largely useless, and is a symptom of the meaningless and futile agitation of our own minds. The attachment of the modern American to his automobile and the symbolic role played by his car, with its aggressive and lubric design, its useless power, its otiose gadgetry, its consumption of fuel, which is advertised as having almost supernatural power…this is where the study of American mythology should begin.
Do not think that you can show your love for Christ by hating those who seem to be His enemies on earth. Suppose they really do hate Him: nevertheless He loves them, and you cannot be united with Him unless you love them too. (176)
Do not be too quick to assume your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are a savage. (177)
Do not be too quick to assume that your enemy is an enemy of God just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy precisely because he can find nothing in you that gives glory to God. (177)
Merton on the normality and ordinariness of the saint.
A saint is capable of loving created things and enjoying the use of them and dealing with them in a perfectly simple, natural manner, making no formal references to God, drawing no attention to his own piety, and acting without any artificial rigidity at all. His gentleness and his sweetness are not pressed through his pores by the crushing restraint of a spiritual straight-jacket. They come from his direct docility to the light of truth and to the will of God. Hence a saint is capable of talking about the world without any explicit reference to God, in such a way that his statement gives greater glory to God and arouses a greater love of God than the observations of someone less holy, who has to strain himself to make an arbitrary connection between creatures and God through the medium of hackneyed analogies and metaphors that are so feeble that they make you think there is something the matter with religion.
Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
Thank you Merton. You have just put into words what I have been unable to for my entire life.
One thing that I have consistently been thinking about as I read apophatic theologians and other mystics is how all of this seemingly ‘heady’ talk translates into spiritual praxis (let alone everyday praxis!). In other words, how does negative theology become a positive force, paradoxically, for growth and service? The last part of Sermon 83 by Eckhart seems to suggest some possibilities.
In the previous post, I summarized what Eckhart had to say in this sermon about the namelessness and incomprehensibility of God.
Sermon 83’s main topic was Ephesians 4.23 which speaks about being renewed by the Spirit. The last section of the sermon is where Eckhart ties together this theme with the notion of God’s namelessness and incomprehensibility. Eckhart writes:
If we want to be renewed in the spirit, each of the soul’s six powers, the superior and inferior powers, must have a ring of gold, gilded with the gold of divine love. (207)